It is 2.57am in New Zealand as I write this, and I have an alarm set for 6 o’clock to get a ferry in the morning. However, having just seen Everton robbed of three points by Aston Villa feat. Howard Webb I feel compelled to expel some of the frustration that is coursing through me here.
The game summed up two different styles of football. Everton played entertaining, stylish and passing stuff, it was slick and at times beautiful. From the off, Villa couldn’t handle it and so they turned on the muscle, flying into challenges and jumping all over Fellaini, Cahill and Jo who were a constant threat.
However, the away side received absolutely no protection from the referee, and yet when Villa adopted their familiar ‘lump it forward’ style of play, all their players had to do was fail to win a header to be granted a free kick. Why can the away team not challenge for headers? Since when was that a rule?
The most dispicable though, was the performance of the man who everyone has raved about all season for Villa: Ashley Young. Frustrated at bot getting an inch out of Tony Hibbert, he soon resorted to throwing himself to the ground as soon as there was any contact, and the gullible Webb bought it every time, booking Hibbert ridiculously for only his second tackle of the match and condemning the full back to walk a tight rope for nigh on 75 minutes.
But it was the start of the second half when the two villains of the piece, A.Young and Webb really took centre stage. Everton were leading by two goals to one after Villa got about three slices of luck in Everton’s penalty area and just about managed to squeeze a goal home (I’d love the ball to drop for us like that).
Young came out with a game plan firmly in mind, and upon receiving the ball he knocked the ball past Hibbert and into the penalty area and then flung himself unceremoniously to the ground. The referee pointed to the six yard box for a goal kick (not the penalty spot as so many idiotic Brummies thought), for once not conned by Young, yet he neglected to caution the player for simulation as he is obliged to do by the Rules Of The Game by which he should operate.
While his overall performance suggested that Mr. Webb does indeed need to dust up his copy of the rule book, football fans can be assured that Webb does know the one about booking players for simulation, having booked Lionel Messi in midweek when in charge of a Champions League match for that very offence. Of course Messi hadn’t dived and was denied a stonewall penalty, which only serves to further illustrate what a shambles of a referee this man is.
Thus, when Young repeated the theatrical trick only moments later and was still not cautioned, Evertonians reacted with the requisite despair and frustration but also a sort of acknowledgement that from him, today, we can expect no better. Unfortunately, it was to get worse.
Steven Pienaar continued Everton’s display of the beautiful side of the game with a stunning curling shot to cap off a patient and considered team move, but then Mr. Webb decided to award Villa a free kick on the edge of Everton’s box for… well I can’t actually tell you what for. Cahill and Barry challenged fairly for a header, and neither of them winning it resumed the battle on the deck. Barry grabbed a handful of Cahill’s shirt and the referee decided he had therefore earned himself a free kick.
Milner stepped up and proved that some members of the Villa team can do more than just hoof the ball into the area, scoring a lovely free kick, aided by Tim Howard’s extremely poor positioning on the goal line: is it me or should keepers not stand in the middle? Still, it was never a free kick and Everton’s newly restored two goal lead was cut back to one and it was squeaky bum time all over again.
The game then got very scrappy, with Villa’s physicality preventing the development of any real football, and upon their lumping the ball into the box once more, they earned themselves a questionable penalty. Joleon Lescott was the culprit, perhaps unwisely trying to clear the ball with the aid of a bicycle kick, and instead making only very fleeting contact with the head of Petrov. I will grant that there was contact, because I am not actually biased – I’m telling it like it it.
So indeed, some sort of retribution was necessary, but given that Lescott had made a clear attempt to play the ball and there was certainly no malice in the action, the offence could only be deemed illegal as ‘dangerous play’ by the raising of a foot to dangerous height. Under the footballing rules (which as we noted earlier, Mr. Webb has perhaps misplaced) this infringement is punishable only by an indirect kick where there is no malice.
Therefore, despite the offence occurring within the penalty area, an indirect free-kick should have been the decision granted. That was not of course, what actually eventuated, Mr. Webb saw fit to grant Villa a penalty which Barry smashed straight down the middle and scored.
Now I’m not claiming that had the correct decision been made and an indirect free-kick awarded that Villa wouldn’t have scored it, but it is certainly a much tougher kick to convert, and Everton would perhaps have maintained the goal advantage that I feel they had earned with their performance in the match. But of course, Mr. Webb wanted to play a part and make some headlines of his own, and he certainly did so.
As the match rumbled towards its close, Ashley Young continued to throw himself to the ground, and despite earlier witnessing what a dirty little cheat he is, Webb continued to award him free kicks at the drop of a hat. At the other end it was a different story, with Jo receiving a hefty shove in the back while attempting to meet a curled cross but being given no reward for his troubles when a penalty seemed assured.
As an Everton fan I have become accustomed to being treated like shit by referees. I’m sure every fan feels that they get shafted on occasion, but I feel it every week. Whether that be because I’m a moaning sod who sees what he wants to see or because we actually are being cheated on a regular basis I leave up to you. However, if you watch the games closely, and today is a perfect example, you will see that I am being honest.
Because let’s be fair, when John Gregory, ex-Villa manager is sitting in the commentary box advising Ashley Young to “get adverts on the soles of his boots”, you know that the bias from the referee has become incredibly blatant. Not only do commentators seem to do their best to side with the referee at every opportunity, John Gregory was clearly rooting for his former club throughout the commentary and so this concession was somewhat out of the blue, or claret and blue as it were.
Now the time is 3.22am here in New Zealand. I feel slightly less angry and much more tired. The adrenaline that was surging through me at the final whistle and filling me with rage has subsided, partly into this post, and left a bitter disappointment behind it. Everton showed today that they are a better footballing side than Villa, and it should be they who occupy the fifth spot in the Premier League.
Instead, as seems to happen all too often these days, the referee has stood in the way of justice, granting Villa a point that keeps them slightly ahead of the Toffees. So I go to bed disappointed and dreading my early morning. It hurts even more knowing that we don’t deserve it, and even though a point at Villa Park may be regarded as a good result, I know that it could and should have been so much more. Such is life though, we see such promise, but then see that snatched away by those who stand over us and given to those less worthy.
We can only hope that in both life and football, reward will be given to those who play the game right, who play it fair and who work hard and honestly for their rewards. The old adage goes that cheats don’t prosper, and if that truly is the case, Everton will finish above Villa come the end of the season. For now, I bid you goodnight as I go to grab about six winks after praying to the weather gods for a smooth crossing. The way my luck is going at the moment though, I’m holding out little hope.
Night all, thanks for reading.